Releases > July 2007

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Niamh Ní Charra, Fiddle and Concertina

Imeartas records IMCD 001, 13 tracks; 53 minutes

The phenomenon that is Riverdance has been with us now for over a decade, and its effects are beginning to be felt with the number of fine musicians who have extensive touring experience and who probably are not as vulnerable as earlier generations to exploitation.

Niamh has certainly paid her dues, since she toured for eight years with Riverdance, but it hasn’t spoiled her appetite for good music making, though it probably delayed her in making her first CD. It is rare to find a musician who is totally at home on two instruments as different as fiddle and concertina, but you certainly have it here.

And Niamh shows her dedication to the concertina by including a little piece from the now-forgotten composer, Giulio Regondi (1822 1872) who was an early virtuoso on the newly invented instrument.

By way of contrast, and showing effortlessly that she really is a home in the tradition, she has Brendan Begley as guest singer on An raibh tú ar an gCarraig, and a good account they both give of it. She shows herself as a hard-working researcher with material from many of the classic collections like Ryan’s and O’Neill’s, and there’s a Hungarian csardas to show for her years on the road.

Her own background is Killarney, with a ready access to the wealth of Sliabh Luachra. She can play slides as naturally as breathing; the fiddle tone can be rich in the lower register, but with a great big of scleip on the reels. So there’s no hint of artificiality on her own compositions: she has a slip jig, a reel, a couple of waltzes and a barn-dance here, plus, of course, a slide to finish with. It’s fine fresh playing, but mature and relaxed, she knows exactly where she is going.

This CD is a thoroughly professional offering that proves Niamh has nothing to prove on either instrument. The only question is: why didn’t I hear about her before now? The certainty is that a lot of people will be hearing before too long.

John Brophy

Visit Niamh Ní Charra’s web site


The New Shoes

Compass Records 4452, 12 tracks, 53 minutes

Out of Dundalk via Edinburgh, Nuala has already graced recordings by Fine Friday, Harem Scarem (a “folk-pop band”) and others. Her solo debut shows immense talent and experience, with flute and vocal pieces from across the Irish and Scottish repertoires. I say solo, but ‘The New Shoes’ has more of a band feel. The opening ‘Pink Flamingo’ set could be early Lúnasa, the same rich, deep texture based on flutes and whistles, the same swirling reels - take away the box and keyboards, and this would fit a McGoldrick or McSherry album.

Nuala’s own compositions ‘Dolphin School’, ‘Slippy’ and the title track continue the modern jazztrad mood. Four songs in Irish and English add a very different aspect to Nuala’s music: surprisingly straight arrangements of ‘The Groves of Donaghmore’ and ‘A Bhean Ud Thois’. The ‘Highlands and Islands’ set is also more pure drop than folk-pop. The wee bonus track is quaint and amusing, I’ll say no more.

Nuala’s playing is outstanding throughout, and her friends do a fine job also: Claire Mann on flutes and fiddles, Julian Sutton on the box, and a great Edinburgh-style rhythm section (think Easy Club, Deaf Shepherd, Ceilidh Minogue).

Compass Records distribution should make this CD easy to find, but oblige if necessary. You can hear samples at

Highly recommended.

Alex Monaghan

Visit Compass Records web site


Yours Truly

Own label, 7065, 12 tracks, 53 minutes

The first time I heard ‘Yours Truly’ was as I walked past Coda Music in Edinburgh. It was exciting enough to get me inside and asking what I was listening to. This is Natalie’s first solo album since her marriage to Donnell Leahy. How much Canadian Irish has crept into her Cape Breton fiddling? Not much, aside from an intriguing version of ‘Danny Boy’ and a couple of very Irish reels. If anything, ‘Yours Truly’ is moving towards modern Scottish piping and Canadian fiddle rock. Think Slainte Mhaith, Stuart Cassells, Ashley MacIsaac or Glenn Graham. There’s drums and bass behind most tracks here: maybe that’s Leahy’s influence. Even with guitars and pipes added to the mix, Natalie’s fiddle is still firmly to the fore. Whether on her own tunes ‘Volcanic Jig’ or ‘Farewell to Peter’, or on big names like ‘Money Musk’ and ‘The Night We Had the Goats’, the crystal tone of the fiddle cuts through with ease.

‘Yours Truly’ is an album of two halves. One is MacMaster compositions: slow airs, reels, and everything in between. ‘Tribute to Stan Chapman, David’s Jig’ and ‘Valerie Pringle’s Reel’ are at the more traditional end. ‘Cape Classico’, ‘Julia’s Waltz’ and ‘Interlude’ are not: Leahy creeps into these tracks in the form of Erin’s piano and baby Mary Frances’ vocals.

The other half is pretty much straight Cape Breton repertoire: strathspeys and reels, clogs and jigs, with a magnificent dollop of piping from Matt MacIsaac. The two halves are intertwined until the end, where ‘Mother Nature’ and the final broad hint of ‘Interlude’ suggest that Natalie’s double motherhood may be cutting in on her musical career for a while.

If so, ‘Yours Truly’ gives us plenty to enjoy in the meantime, and we can follow developments on her website, which incidentally tells us that Natalie already has Canada’s highest award for lifetime achievement.

Alex Monaghan

Visit Natalie MacMaster’s web site


‘Enchanted Lady’

Lo La Records 004, 12 tracks, 54 minutes

Officially, this album is the third album by The London Lasses and Pete Quinn, maybe they needed a token man, or they couldn’t find a female keyboards player, but either way this group of five Irish emigrées is backed by a boy who’s among the best in the business. Now we’ve sorted that out, I’ll just call them the London Lasses.

In four songs and eight instrumentals, ‘Enchanted Lady’ provides a well-balanced helping of first-class Irish music. Lyrical reels like ‘The Barr Road’ and ‘Green Grow the Rushes’ (from the Burns song), cracking jigs like ‘The Coming of Spring’ and Peadar Ó Ríada’s ‘Spóirt’, together with a sprinkling of slower tunes: all are delivered with depth and feeling. The gutsy flute of Dee Havlin lashes into ‘The Humours of Castlefin’, Maureen Linane’s button box bleeds and sighs for ‘My Ballingarry Lady’ and ‘Rocking the Cradle’, and twin fiddling strikes sparks from ‘The Walls of Liscarroll’ as Karen Ryan and Elaine Conwell ply their bows. A touch of banjo, a touch of whistle, and that man on the ivories supplies the foundation for a fabulous sound.

Kathleen O’Sullivan kicks her heels for eight tracks, but gives us a good mix of songs in her four solo spots. ‘Cailín Rua’ is an old chestnut tastily roasted here. ‘The Green Fields of Canada’ is also well known, and gets a mammoth six-minute arrangement from The London Lasses. ‘The Mickey Dam’ and ‘The Maid from Maraclune’ are less familiar, but Kathleen’s renditions make them memorable. Her voice is full of fighting passion on ‘The Mickey Dam’, and there’s a full showband arrangement to back it up.

The air from ‘The Rocks of Bawn’ visits Maraclune for the usual sad story of untrue love, from which Kathleen wrings every ounce of pathos. The title track is not a song, nor another reference to Pete Quinn as I first thought, but a striking brash and bubbly reel which nicely sums up this album. At find samples and much more, I recommend a visit.

Alex Monaghan

Visit The London Lasses’s web site


Tommy Fleming

Universal Music 1709055, 2006

Tommy Fleming is an artiste who seems to have the uncanny knack of picking just the right songs to strike a chord in his listeners. His albums combine the new works of various writers with better-known tracks with the latter getting a slightly new arrangement. This album is no different. Over the bakers dozen of tracks we find new writers but also some of his favourite writers like Jimmy McCarthy and Phil Coulter.

Opening with ‘Open Sky’ you are drawn in by his effortless delivery that belies a strong emotional investment in each song. He follows this with a wonderful rendition of ‘Don’t Want to Talk About it’. The album is worth buying for the single track ‘Lakes on Ponchartrain’. I know, you have this by Christy Moore, Ry Cooder, Paul Brady or a dozen other artistes who do great work on the beautiful song, but Fleming offers another dimension. Maybe its his diction and depth but listening to this and some other familiar tracks I find myself appreciating the lyrics as never before.

The same happens on his version of McCarthy’s fantastic song about Ireland, ‘Mystic Lipstick’. Once again the meaning becomes so clear on this album, making a great song even better. He takes on Tommy Makem’s song of Ireland also in ‘Four Green Fields’.

But its not confined to Irish themes and writers. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s, ‘Jubilee’ is another strong contender for a favourite track. The one time anthem of Ireland’s capital, ‘Summer in Dublin’ is given a wonderful arrangement and lets you almost smell the Liffey and feel that summer city sun. He closes the album with Johnny Duhan’s song that could be a useful philosophy, ‘Don’t Give Up ‘til Its Over’.

Sadly at that point the album is over but then you realise why there is a button marked ‘repeat’ on your panel.

Nicky Rossiter

Visit Tommy Fleming’s web site


Live from Gatineau

Foreign Media Group CD 8199, 14 tracks, 61 minutes

It’s a while since Leahy’s third album, but the Canadian-Irish siblings are back on a live CD (and a DVD also). With eleven instrumental sets and three songs, this is more of a dance music album than their last studio recording. ‘Jenny’s Chickens’, ‘The Auld Fiddler’, ‘Devil Among the Tailors’, ‘The Longford Collector’, ‘The High Road to Linton’ and ‘Andy Renwick’s Ferret’: those are just some of the reels rattled out by Leahy’s five fiddlers. Add a hornpipe, a set of czardas (very popular this season), and the poignant air ‘For the Love of Tara’, and you begin to get the flavour of this phenomenal eight-piece family group. I haven’t even mentioned the step-dancing yet.

Did I mention the step-dancing? The sean-nos style? The fact that they all do it? It’s like a mini Riverdance, and it’s even better on the DVD. If that’s not powerful enough, try the duelling pianos on a medley of Scott Joplin rags. Another nice touch is the guest fiddling of Natalie MacMaster, now married to Donnell Leahy, on ‘Wedding Day Jig’. The only slight disappointment is Donnell’s version of the American fiddle classic ‘Orange Blossom Special’: I’ve heard this tune howl like a coyote and whistle like a steam loco, but it doesn’t quite do that here.

The three songs are the icing on the cake. All Leahy team compositions, they recount the preciousness of life and love, and the importance of faith, with sincerity and passion. The DVD adds a cameo from Ma and Pa Leahy, and a couple more solos, plus lots of step-dancing. Albums don’t come any livelier, and the Quebec audience clearly loved Leahy. Try for samples and more info.

Alex Monaghan

Visit Leahy Music web site


Alison McMorland & Geordie McIntyre

Greentrax CDTRAX 306 2007

Two great voices join in harmony on this CD to bring us fourteen gems of Scots music. Alison takes pride of place on the plaintive traditional song ‘The Rocks O Gibraltar’ telling the familiar tale of love and loss. One of my favourite tracks turns out to record a tale not often told of a white slave trade operating out of Aberdeen in the 18th century. The traditional song, ‘The Virginia Maid’ is a sad tale that will draw a tear from the careful listener. It is also a social document worth paying attention to as it recounts the maid’s duties.

‘The Shore Heid Boat’ tells us the very real tale of the sailors life in the recent past rather than in the days of sail with references to being “white as snow loading lime at Glenarm” and “The Dutch have got the business and me that’s got the sack”. Night visiting songs are a strong element in folk and few can better ‘Here’s A Health to All true Lovers’. The song is thought to be an ancestor of the great ‘Lover’s Ghost’.

One of the better-known tracks is ‘John Barleycorn’ but this duo give is new interpretation that has a beautiful delivery with dialect words abounding.’The Shira Dam’ is another wonderful unaccompanied piece. This is poetic history telling the tale of working on a dam in Argyll in the 1950s showing that Ewan McColl was not the only one writing great songs about the working people. It tells of the hard life, unions but also humour. This is social history in rhyme.

From working life the album moves seamlessly to a song in prise of nature on ‘Last Farewell to the Bens’. ‘Our Ship is Ready’ is another song of emigration from the Irish canon and it is beautifully delivered without accompaniment. After the emigration they move on to that other travel song - transportation - on ‘My Last Farewell Tae Stirling’.
This collection of excellent song, beautifully sung is more than simply a music album. It is a social history telling various stories that affected lives not only in far away lands or centuries but within living memory and as such it deserves to be sought out, played and most important, listened to closely.

Nicky Rossiter

Visit Greentrax web site


James Carty, Flute

13 tracks, Own Label

Everyone knows, even in a hazy kind of way, that there’s a great flute tradition around Sligo-Leitrim. But there are other counties where it’s just as strong, such as Clare, Roscommon, and London. This is a fine collection that goes back to the days of Paddy in the Smoke, when it took persistence and tenacity to find other musicians to share the music with, and the world of Riverdance was quite unthinkable. Some of the tunes come from the Auld Triangle club in London. (We did have such a club in Dublin too, oh yes). At its most basic, our tradition is a family music, and this is a brilliant example of it.

Just listen to James Carty, with father and brother, John and John P. playing the classic reel, the Merry Harriers, with an effortless naturalness, and you encounter the tradition at its unfussy best. There’s not a hint of a learned tune here; the music part of the mental furniture Bouzouki players should also be alerted. Alec Finn is in excellent form here, and so are John Blake on piano and Francis Gaffney on guitar. Listen too for the hand-hit style of Bodhrán playing from Joe Kennedy.

The tune selection is great, there are fine old tunes like the Sailor’s Bonnet and the Boys of the Lough. The discovery piece for me is the single jig, Siney Crotty’s coupled with Cathal MacConnell’s reel, the Piper’s Broken Finger. The growth of the music means that there are now many people, especially Stateside, who are trying to learn without being able to meet players. For them especially, and for anyone trying to get inside the mindset of the tradition there is no better place to start.

I can remember a few discs that I used to call the Rescue Remedies, total pure drop, and when things were going badly, I’d have them in the car or near at hand. And not only did they provide a refuge, but at later sessions someone might say not too often, mind that the playing was coming on a bit. It’s a great thing to know that music like this is still there, and available for all of us to share.

John Brophy

Visit John Carty Music web site


Ann Heymann

Clairseach/Gaelic Harp, CMCD 0706 13 tracks. 60 minutes

This isn’t just a CD. It’s a revelation and for me the realisation of a dream. It’s not a year ago since I stood beside the so-called Brian Ború harp in the old library at Trinity College. And I looked at its musically sorry condition, all unstrung, and I said to myself: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could get a replica, and learn to play it in the old style as documented by Bunting?” That someone is Ann Heymann. She even found historical metal-smith Daniel Tokar to make strings from the Irish copper alloy and from gold and silver. And the results are stunning. So is the research on the music. Some of you who are interested in ancient music may recall how Diane Poulton, in the early 1900s took up the lute, an instrument that had completely fallen out of use, and used books dating from 1600 and before to resurrect a technique and unlock centuries of music.

Ann has followed a similar route with the harp, except there were no books from the Irish tradition. It can?t have been easy, when you’re based 500 miles west of Chicago in Minnesota, Sky-blue Water, but the patience she once used to train horses has now been harnessed for this great purpose. There are manuscripts from the Welsh tradition like the one from Robert ap Huws, which uses a tablature that looks like it is based on the hexachord. But since 1974 Ann has sought to resurrect the old technique, with left hand playing treble and right hand playing bass, and broken chords played top down, as Bunting recalled.

And the experiment proved that brass for treble stings, silver for mid-range and gold for bass is the best combination. It would also explain why a harp was such a status symbol, and harpers so highly regarded. One of the main features of the album is the singing of a late medieval poem about a duel between the Fianna and Airrgeann the Viking. This is accompanied on the harp. We know that there was recitation of heroic poetry with harp accompaniment, but we can only guess at what it sounded like.

Ann uses examples from the piping tradition, such as the Fox-chase, to suggest that the harp was used for sound effects to support the words. Certainly this happened in European music too: Beethoven made huge money from his Battle Symphony, and in an earlier age there were loads of pieces depicting battles. Even a casual listening shows how piping ornaments are so indebted to the harp technique she has helped to re-discover.
Another debt owed to Ann is showing how Irish harpers were highly regarded in Europe during the 1600s. She even has unearthed a picture dating from 1622 (credit to piper Sean Donnnelly) showing four musicians at the court of Christian IV of Denmark. The harp player is probably Darby Scott, with famed composer William Brade on viola da gamba, and his son playing lute. Reviving the harp is only restoring to Irish music a former fame.

Forget Lord of the Rings, this is Lady of the Strings. It took exceptional courage to string a harp with gold strings. The result is something that shouldn’t be ignored by anyone interested in Irish music. If you want to know where the music should be going, you have to get the best possible idea of where it came from. It is here, and it’s totally superb.

John Brophy

Visit Clairseach’s web site


Lightweights & Gentlemen

Reveal Records 17, 11 tracks, 58 minutes

Aidan O’Rourke on fiddle, Martin Green on piano box, and Kris Drever on guitar and vocals: from Blazin’ Fiddles, the Eliza Carthy band and Fine Friday, this trio produces music which is both beguiling and disturbing, impossible to ignore. A feeding frenzy of fiddle and accordion is backed by booming guitar on eight highly-charged instrumental sets. Three ballads range from the macabre “Unquiet Grave” to the modern “Freeborn Man”.

This dark and threatening mood is leavened by the sweetness of “Alyth’s” and “ Gallowhill”, and the pure fun of “Moorhens”, glowing tunes whose lau lights up this recording. The brooding undercurrent is soon back, though, either on Kris Drever’s sparingly arranged songs “Butcher Boy” and the Ewan MacColl classic “Freeborn Man”, or on tunes such as “The Dog and the Rabbit” or “Waiting for the Results” which both have surprisingly funny stories behind them despite the sepulchral basslines.

Much of Lau’s material is written by Aidan: “A Dog Called Bran, Souter Creek, Mattie and Karine’s, A Tune for Emily Ball”, and the excellent “Hinba “ which was a highlight of Aidan’s solo album “Sirius”. Martin and Kris also contribute several tunes, and there’s one by the late great Joe Scurfield from the Old Rope String Band. The general style is virtuoso fiddle and box with powerful guitar chords, interspersed with sweet solo spots, and occasional escalations into breakneck improvisation with fingers and horsehair flying.

The managed mayhem of “Muckle Moose on the Muin” is striking enough on CD, but in the live act it’s a wonder they don’t put someone’s eye out. I’ve rarely seen or heard more energetic music, and the skill level is awesome, from guitar wizardry to fiddle pyrotechnics to accordion meltdown.

If this is the way traditional music is going, hang on tight and enjoy the ride. I can’t promise you’ll love this album, but you have to hear it: will help. There’s even an LP version for the extra-cool or over-inert and the LP has a different bonus track!

Alex Monaghan

Visit Lau Music web site